Question: What should parents expect if their child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
Answer: Coming to terms with the condition and how to manage it can be challenging, as the Radley’s discovered when their daughter, Bella, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of two.
In retrospect, it was lucky that Bella Radley’s symptoms were spotted early. Any longer and she may have been at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening complication of Type 1 diabetes.
Bella, now seven, was two years old when her mother, Debbie, suspected something was wrong. Bella was drinking a lot and urinating so excessively that her nappies leaked.
After her GP suggested a urine test, Bella was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In the UK, around 29,000 children have Type 1 diabetes, a condition which always needs to be treated with insulin. This wasn’t easy as Bella was just a toddler and scared of injections; yet the whole family needed to come to terms with the medical interventions required to manage Bella’s diabetes.
In 2009, Bella received an insulin pump via University College Hospitals London (UCLH). This is a device, about the size of a mobile phone, which is attached to the body and delivers constant insulin via a catheter, placed under the skin. A pump removes the necessity of multiple daily injections and can offer improved blood glucose control, both of which are especially crucial for children.
The Radleys say that the care they have received (and continue to receive) from UCLH was incredible, especially because it was extended to include Bella’s older sister, Phoebe.
Soon after Bella’s diagnosis, Phoebe began to feel left out because, inevitably, Debbie and Stuart’s attention had been taken up with learning and understanding more about the condition and how to manage it. First, UCLH asked Phoebe to attend one of Bella's clinics — then an appointment was made with a play therapist who was able to talk to her about her feelings. Now Phoebe likes to get involved in Bella’s testing and carb-counting and also weighs out Bella's breakfast.
Bella’s condition has to be monitored carefully and constantly and, naturally, this includes school time. Indeed, Bella’s ability to learn is compromised when her blood sugars are high or low, and can have damaging implications if untreated. Her local authority is now providing support with an educational needs statement to ensure that Bella’s health is a priority and that the school gets the funding they need to support her.